Gyllian Flynn’s mystery/thriller Gone Girl is the story of two awful people doing awful things to each other. Although the book came out early in 2012, a movie adaption has been set to be released later this year. Keep reading to hear some feminist perspective.
*CAUTION: WE ARE ABOUT TO SPOIL THIS ENTIRE BOOK*
Gone Girl chronicles the relationship of the novel’s two main characters, Amy and Nick Dunne. The pair’s failing marriage and general life woes take up the majority of the first part of the novel. From Nick losing his job to the duo’s relocation to North Carthage, Missouri, not much is going right for the Dunnes. Nick opens a bar that he runs with his sister, Margot, in his childhood hometown using money he borrows from Amy. All the while, he struggles with dealing with a demented, misogynistic father and an ill-fallen mother.
Amy’s thoughts are presented in the past tense through a series of personal journal entries, while Nick’s story is told in the present in more of a narrative style during this first part of Gone Girl. Both Amy and Nick are characterized as incredibly narcissistic, self-victimizing, and blameful of the other for their own personal misery. The tale of a failing marriage, however, is interrupted when Amy suddenly disappears (on their 5th wedding anniversary, nonetheless), attracting national attention and forcing Nick to take a hard look at his wife.
The second part of the plot comes with a twist that begins to shed some light on Amy’s disappearance. Amy’s desperate, pitiful journal entries are revealed to be a farce composed by Amy to carry out an elaborate plan to frame her husband Nick for her suspected murder. Meanwhile, Amy is hiding away watching her attempted rescue being played out on national TV. In short, she is a psychopath. At this point, readers are confused as to why what seemed like a normal low in a marriage was enough to drive Amy to commit this act of manipulation, it is divulged that Nick is cheating with a young girl named Andie.
The novel ends with both characters in a stand off to frame the other for Amy’s crime. With a good dose of domestic violence to top things off, the pair eventually ends up back together, deciding that they have more fun making each other miserable than they could ever have with anyone else.
Let’s take a closer look at how the protagonists are portrayed:
Amy, the New York raised daughter of liberal, “feminist” parents is characterized by her cleverness, independence, and beauty. As readers are constantly reminded, Amy is super-rich from a trust fund set up for her by her parents fueled by money they made with the successful children’s book series “Amazing Amy.”
Nick, on the other hand, was raised in a Midwest, working class family and would probably describe himself as someone who is “intelligent, hard-working, and worthy of All Good Things” but just caught a bad break.
With this set up, readers find themselves rooting for the deeply misogynistic, eventually violent Nick while hoping that evil Amy gets her just desserts. Two events in Gone Girl make this very troubling. For one, Amy frames a previous boyfriend for rape, playing off the stereotype that rape accusations are often false and vengeful. American media does not need to have this message reinforced any more – especially from a book boasting “strong” female characters. Second, Amy’s “not like other girls” trope in her diary entries is something we are particularly sick of. Her version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that is ever popular in American media, “the cool girl,” misses the mark. Although it seems Flynn intended this to be a critique of MPDG character, it comes off as poking fun at women and men who actually enjoy what “cool girls” enjoy.
Flynn herself states on her website her intention to create a female villain:
“Isn’t it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”
Although we agree that the world of media is lacking in solid, female villains (and that Amy is truly evil), Flynn’s generalizations and writing-off of legitimate personalities of both real and fictional women is a little troubling. Growing weary of the “brave rape victims” is an unique opinion to hold as someone who considers herself a feminist writer. Survivors of sexual assault are villainized enough in the media; we don’t need a female villain who hands out false rape accusations.
Another factor is the portrayal of minor characters. Gone Girl is written with an untrustworthy narrative, meaning that the story is told from the perspectives of Nick and Amy, making it hard to trust the descriptions of events and characters. In this way, Andie is portrayed as a dumb, innocent girl while Desi Collings is depicted as an evil, entitled rapist. These stark stereotypes are dangerous, but are basically essential to the plot. Relying on previously held stereotypes to create shallow characters with little development is common in literature, but is particularly harmful in this case. Since Flynn is writing about relationships, the role of women, sexual abuse, and misogyny, these characters could have been handled with a little more care.
While the novel’s tagline “Marriage can be a real killer” might be better replaced with “two awful people do awful things to each other,” Flynn’s piece, nonetheless, is an interesting, well-written, gripping read – if a little misguided at times.
We’re not sure how director David Fincher is going to tackle this beast of a book, but maybe bringing the characters to life will redeem the feminist model Gone Girl could have been.
What do you think? Are you going to go see the movie when it is released?